Admiral Kuznetstov was almost lost a few weeks ago when the floating dock PD-50 sank with the aircraft carrier (sorry, aircraft-carrying missile cruiser) on board. This is a disaster for the Russian Navy. Not only was Kuznetsov damaged during the incident when a crane fell onto the deck, but even worse, PD-50 may be lost for good. This dock was one of the most important assets for Russia’s military ship repair industry.
So while the accident will delay the delivery of Admiral Kuznetsov after scheduled maintenance, the worst consequences may show themselves further down the line. Several questions are now open. Can PD-50 be recovered, or is it lost forever? Where can the repairs of Kuznetsov continue? There is no alternative to PD-50 in the North, because all other docks are too small for Kuznetstov. So if the dock cannot be recovered, they may have to transport Kuznetstov to the Far East, where the only alternative is located. How will the Northern Fleet manage without the capability of the huge PD-50 which could hold several ships at a time?
The tragic thing is really what this event says about the state of the Russian shipbuilding and ship repair industry. Scandals are abundant, and delays are the rule rather than the exception. For example the new Admiral Gorshkov frigate was 12 years in production, the landing ship Ivan Gren required 14 years, and the submarine Kronshtadt is still in production 13 years after keel laying. A big story recently has also been engine delivery issues for the Karakurt-class corvettes which keeps the production pace low.
The misfortune of Admiral Kuznetsov and PD-50 is so spectacular that it will gain a place in the history books. But it joins a long list of bad news for Russia’s Navy and shipyard industry. The sinking of PD-50 could easily have been prevented, because nothing was wrong with the dock. According to Michael Kofman, the ballast pumps on the dock must be on at all times to keep it floating, and for whatever reason the electricity from shore was cut off. The dock had an emergency power system with four diesel generators, but the shipyard had decided not employ a crew to service them or to buy fuel. In other words, a reckless decision on the part of the shipyard management removed all safety mechanisms and left the floating dock dependent on the city’s power supply.